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Simpsonville postpones annexation vote

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By Walt Reichert

The usually sedate Wednesday morning meeting of the Simpsonville City Commission was anything but calm this week as dozens of opponents of annexation of land near I-64 showed up to assault the plan.

But after more than two hours of bickering and occasional personal attacks, the commission agreed only to delay a vote on the annexation plan until its regular Dec. 4 meeting. In the meantime, Mayor Steve Eden said he would gather a group of residents "from the south side of the interstate" to talk about the annexation and other issues so "we don't have to fight this battle over and over again."

Simpsonville City Administrator David Eaton opened the meeting with a statement attacking Magistrate Michael Riggs for a letter to the Sentinel-News on the annexation. In the letter Riggs accused the commission of poor planning, of secrecy and brokering a deal behind closed doors with the owners of approximately 7 acres that is part of the annexation, Redline Properties, LLC.

Eaton called Riggs's comments in the letter insulting and said he had never "seen such a misrepresentation of an issue in all of my years of public service."

Eaton said the city had an agreement in writing with Redline that it would not develop the property into a heavy equipment dealership and he said the city would not ignore the Triple S Planning and Zoning Commission's denial of a request for a zone change that would allow the equipment dealership last July. Eaton said the city did not try to hide the annexation plan, saying it held its first reading at a regularly scheduled meeting. And he accused Riggs of not communicating with the city commission.

"We have tried and tried and tried, we have begged him to sit down with us and talk and he just won't do it," Eaton said. "This {the commission} is the most open body I have ever worked with and you owe these people an apology for how you have labeled their actions."

For his part, Riggs said he would stand by everything he wrote in the letter and accused Eaton of "delivering a 20-minute tirade on me."

"They're upset because we caught them," Riggs said. "No one was informed. It was first reading, and bang, and second reading and it's over. If we hadn't written anything in the paper, no one would have known anything about it."

Eaton's statements brought even sharper retorts from others in the audience.

Owen Humphress called Eaton's attack "personal" and "uncalled for."

"You get out here and attack a guy for representing his people," Humphress said. "These personal attacks have not got us anywhere."

Bonnie Burks Gray, who lives on Joyes Station Road, noted that what happens in Simpsonville and the interchange affects those on the north side as well as the south side of the interstate. And she attacked those who said growth and development is inevitable and cannot be stopped.

"You need to change your language that we can't stop something," Burks Gray said. "If that were true they would be digging dirt for OmniSource today. We can say we do not want to chip away at that sign that says Saddlebred Capital of the World. That is what you are getting ready to do." Burks Gray led an attack earlier this year that halted plans to develop a metal recycling center in an industrial park near her home.

Mistrust

The battle over annexation boils down to the city of Simpsonville's trying to gain a commercial tax base when the area around the interchange develops versus citizens on the south side of the interstate who fear that the commission will allow development that detracts from the property values of their homes, most on five-acre tracts.

While many of the residents said they would not oppose a hotel, restaurant or coffee shop development on the site, they made it clear they did not want Simpsonville to annex the property.

One member of the audience said "I don't have anything against you, but I don't want you as my neighbor."

Many noted that the commission could vote for development that would affect them while they could not vote for commission members.

Others attacked the city's allowing Pilot to enlarge the truck stop at the interchange as an example of poor planning. City officials noted that the truck stop was already there when the city annexed the land and the only choice they had was to try to make it better.

City officials, including Eden, said the city has no where else to grow, and "it has to grow somewhere to serve the residents of the city." He noted that the city was denied growth in the proposed Saddle Ridge development when that subdivision was tied up in court and eventually bought by Mary Gaylord McClean who has no current plans for development.

For their part, residents questioned the timing of the annexation and asked that the city should get from Redline Properties information about what it plans to put on the land.

Both sides agreed that animosity is too high and communication is poor between both groups. Eden said his plan to include residents from the south side of the interstate would help solve communication woes. He plans to meet with residents before the Dec. 4 meeting.

But even that plan drew criticism. Riggs asked that annexation opponent and school board member Doug Butler be on the committee because of his connections with West Shelby Organized for Preservation (WSCOP). But Eden said he did not want elected officials in the group.

"I want individuals with no connections to elected officials," Butler said.